Gregory Peck’s friend, Liza Minnelli once described him as ‘the ultimate movie star’ saying ‘there’s nobody more handsome or more gentle or more romantic on the screen’. Indeed, in his day, Peck was a full-blown phenomenon. His acting career spanned six decades and produced such classics as Spellbound (1945), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), Roman Holiday (1953), Moby Dick (1956), Cape Fear (1962), To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) (which won him an Oscar for Best Actor), The Omen (1976), and more, making him one of the most sought-after stars of his generation. Even when he was just starting out in Hollywood, Peck was signed by no fewer than four studios and got top billing from his very first big-screen appearance.
Despite the auspicious turn his career would eventually take, before he became Gregory Peck the movie star he was born Eldred Gregory Peck on April 5, 1916, in La Jolla, California, with the name ‘Eldred’ being picked by his mother seemingly at random from the phone book.
After graduating from UC Berkeley, he decided to drop his first name and headed to New York with just $195 in his pocket looking to start a career as an actor.
There is simply no talking about Peck without mention of his appearance. Everything written about him inevitably pays tribute to his rugged good looks, his lanky physique, and his sonorous voice — the full package of which was perhaps best summed up by his friend Arnold Sundgaard, who referred succinctly to Peck’s ‘splendid physical equipment’.
In these descriptions, mention of his fine dress sense is often near-to-hand. One of his co-stars, Carroll Baker, said of Peck as a young man: ‘I couldn’t keep my eyes off him. He was so tall, handsome and immaculately dressed, so charming and funny and such a perfect gentleman — he would have turned any girl’s head’. Piper Laurie, meanwhile, who acted alongside an older Peck in the early 1990s, admitted that ‘Growing up, I had been such a fan of his, seen everything he’d done and fallen in love with him. And there he was! And, of course, he remained through the years a very imposing, beautiful person, physically. He just looked so elegant. The whole package was just breathtaking’.
Peck’s appearance and real-life moral character equally translated to the silver screen. Despite various largely unsuccessful attempts at playing against type, Peck was typecast throughout his life. His biographer Gary Fishgall describes the actor’s inevitable on-screen persona as follows:
‘Gregory Peck […] was the man of principle driven to almost any length to do what needed to be done. As one of his costars, Lee Remick, put it, “He represented, I guess, everything kind of strong and reliable and solid.” In Gentleman’s Agreement, for example, he was a crusading journalist out to expose anti-Semitism even at the risk of his own love life. In Twelve O’Clock High, he was an Air Corps general who ruined his own mental health to whip a battle-weary bomb group into combat readiness. In Captain Horatio Hornblower, he was the skilled naval commander willing to ignore orders to pursue his own keen battle plan. Even in To Kill a Mockingbird, where he was a gentler type of hero — an attorney/father in a small Depression-era Southern town — he still risked economic ruin and ostracism from his neighbors to defend the rights of a black man.
Peck’s choice of clothing telegraphed a similar sense of quiet dignity, reliability, and resilience. Not a man particularly prone to fads or fashions, he wore a consistent set of staples throughout his life: sober tailoring, button-down collars, tweed sport coats, and flannel work shirts, accompanied more often than not by a pipe or cigarette held between his teeth.
Indeed, a connection between career and clothing dates to Peck’s earliest days working as a model for $25 a day. He proved particularly in demand for catalogue work where his personas ranged from business executives to tennis players to casually-dressed campers.
When Peck’s ship came in, however, in typically steadfast form he picked as his tailor of choice H. Huntsman & Sons on Savile Row, who have been dressing royalty, heads of industry, and stars of stage and screen for just shy of 175 years. Peck’s relationship with Huntsman started in 1953 and lasted some 50 years, culminating in 2014 with a special tweed named for the actor and an exhibit held in his honour. Over the course of Peck’s life, Huntsman made 164 garments for him, including the dinner jacket he wore when he won his Oscar, the suit he wore when receiving the Medal of Freedom at the White House, a morning coat he donned at the Royal Ascot, and countless other suits and jackets that featured in his everyday life and on screen, including bits of wardrobe in such films as To Kill A Mockingbird and The Omen — not to mention the all-important titular costume in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.
Even today, two decades after his death back in 2003, Peck’s influence continues. The American Film Institute, for instance, has put his portrayal of Atticus Finch at the very top of their list of heroes in film. Equally, his sartorial sway seems somehow undimmed: There are still GQ articles suggesting you tuck your necktie into your waistband à la Peck in Roman Holiday, glossy menswear books that feature him on the cover, and glasses named in his honour sold by Oliver Peoples. It appears that Gregory Peck’s simple and unassuming sense of style is every bit as immortal as the strength of his character, the dignity of his performances, and the famously agreeable cut of his jib.
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